Marsha Blackburn’s Vindman vendetta

Marsha Blackburn has it out for Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman.

The freshman senator from Tennessee has been on a multi-month, multimedia crusade against Vindman, who flagged President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian president to the top National Security lawyer and testified to House impeachment investigators that he considered it improper. And she’s stepping up the offensive right in the middle of the Senate impeachment trial.

This week she tweeted Vindman was “vindictive,” questioned his patriotism and attempted to tie him to the still-anonymous whistleblower, who sparked the impeachment effort by reporting Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the intelligence community’s inspector general. Vindman testified that he doesn't know who the whistleblower is.

Her TV appearances and social media campaign is drawing scathing criticism from Vindman’s lawyer as a “testament to cowardice,” is receiving little back-up from fellow Republicans and is being savaged by Democratic senators.

In an interview, Blackburn defended her remarks about the National Security Council official and said she is only reiterating concerns she’s hearing from other military officials about Vindman for going “outside of his chain of command.” Vindman, a decorated Army veteran and Ukraine specialist, also testified that a top White House lawyer told him to remain silent about his concerns over Trump’s call. And she seemed to take the criticism in stride.

“I work with a lot of military folks and they all had questions about him as someone in uniform,” Blackburn said. “They were offended. That what he would do is go against, try to undermine the commander-in-chief. And so we have weighed in on that.”

The blowback against Blackburn has been immediate though mostly from Democrats so far. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said that Blackburn’s comments are “not deserving of a response,” while Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) described them as “utterly repugnant and reprehensible.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on MSNBC that the Tennessee Republican's comments speak for themselves and "to quote Franklin D. Roosevelt, it will go down in infamy."

“Somebody who has put his life on the line for our country and he needs to be treated with respect even if you don’t agree with what he’s done,” added Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).

Blackburn’s allegations that Vindman is tied to the whistleblower and ignored the chain of command are in part based off a story from conservative writer Paul Sperry and testimony from Tim Morrison, a top White House national security aide. Morrison told House impeachment investigators that there were concerns about the lieutenant colonel's judgment and that he wished Vindman had spoken to him first about the July 25 call instead of going straight to a White House lawyer to express his concerns.

When asked about the response from Vindman’s lawyer Ambassador David Pressman calling her actions “a testament to cowardice,” Blackburn responded “talk is cheap” and hit Vindman for choosing to “have a lawyer instead of going through his chain of command to have an outside attorney.”

Blackburn is not the only Trump ally to attack Vindman, who has a Purple Heart medal for his service in Iraq. Trump himself has described the lieutenant colonel as a “Never Trumper” and he faced vicious opposition from Trump allies in the lead-up to his testimony. Former Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Fox News’ Laura Ingraham have questioned Vindman’s credibility. But GOP leaders from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) to Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) have defended Vindman from the attacks and praised his service to the country.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said there are questions remaining about Vindman’s testimony including his alleged interactions with the whistleblower, but sees no reason to disparage him.

“I’m not going to attack him,” Lankford said. “I don’t think there’s a reason for a personal attack. I don’t think there’s any reasons to check his motives or anything.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Friday that he was aware of the story that Vindman “was friends of the alleged whistleblower,” but added he did not know if it was true or not. Graham, however did not view attacks on Vindman necessarily as an affront.

“I don’t think that’s an attack, I think that’s a question,” Graham said.

James Carafano, a vice president at the Heritage Foundation, defended Blackburn in a statement.

“Neither wearing a uniform or receiving a medal makes you immune from criticism or questioning your character and integrity-wearing a uniform is a privilege-wearing a uniform doesn’t give you privilege," he said.

Vindman told House impeachment investigators in October that Trump undermined national security when he asked Zelensky to investigate his political rivals. He’s been a key figure during the impeachment trial, frequently cited in the Democratic House impeachment managers’ presentations.

Even while Senate Republicans are eager to attack the case — and even House impeachment managers — they have stayed away from criticizing the lieutenant colonel. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), among the most loquacious GOP senators, declined to comment on Blackburn’s remarks, while Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a member of the GOP leadership, didn’t address them directly.

But despite her attacks, the Tennessee Republican has continued to air her views on the Trump impeachment trial in multiple TV appearances this week. She did a Fox News hit Tuesday while the Senate impeachment trial was in session, went on Ingraham’s show Thursday and spoke with Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth Saturday. Blackburn told Hegseth that she respects the uniform, but once again reiterated her criticism of Vindman.

“I'm not new to political battles,” she said Friday. “And this is something that is important to raise as a portion of the conversation as we look at the impeachment articles — to look at the credibility of the witnesses is an important piece of that.”

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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